Texas Military Forces Museum


111th Reconnaissance Squadron
World War II Narrative History

Part VIII:  Sicily

For three days, those of the squadron who were operating from Cape Bon kept close tab on all news of progress being made on the new beachheads. The ground echelon had, during this time, left the port at Tunis and was proceeding in convoy to "Dime" beach near Gela, Sicily. On July 14 the Cape Bon air echelon boarded C-47 transport planes and took off for Sicily with our Mustangs serving as fighter escort. They landed at Ponte Olivio airfield and proceeded to clean up nearby sheds and revetments to serve as squadron headquarters and line sections. The new field had a fine, hard runway -- the first we’d had since coming overseas, and the taxi strips were paved with ground-up sea shell. We pitched our pup tents in an unmowed wheat field a half mile from the runway, and took time out for chow clear across the field. It was worth It because we had steak.

Darkness came late, but everyone, tired from the exertion of the day, turned in early. At 0145 hours in the morning we were awakened from our deep sleep by the unsynchronized hum of a Nazi dive-bomber circling overhead. The moon was at its brightest and the white-framed field was lit up like a phosphorescent bulls-eye. The first bombs that were dropped were incendiaries, which set fire to the dry wheat stalks in a field about 400 yards to our north. Another plane dropped high-explosive bombs on a barn across the field in which some American engineers were billeted. Both targets were soon blazing gloriously and we wasted no tine in leaving our fire-threatened field. We ran to a long drainage ditch nearby while a second set of planes overhead were screeching into their bomb run. Some men with foresight had set up housekeeping in the ditch and the steady stream of evacuees who stumbled over their blanketed forms were greeted with well-chosen epithets in English, Arabic and Dagoe. The presents being rained on us were of various types. In addition to the incendiaries there was a fair share of fair-sized H. H. bombs, plus what seemed like carloads of anti-personnel bombs with delay fuses. The latter resembled thermos bottles and spread out over large areas where they endangered all personnel and planes they proximated. They were devised to explode at varying Intervals and every few minutes during the next day the blast and whine of their heavy cast-Iron caps was a signal for everyone to hit the dirt. The rain continued until 3 a.m., after which individuals clad only in underwear, shoes and steel helmets, filed slowly and apprehensively back to the sacks they had left so hurriedly a few hours before. One man found that he had left so fast, in fact, that he had forgotten to wear his shoes, and when time come to return he was unable to walk across the wheat stubble. We had never noted the absence of shoes in his race to find shelter. Sleep followed with difficulty.

In the morning we proceeded to our work on the line gingerly and fearful of what we would find. A good many of our planes had been irreparably damaged by shrapnel and others would require a lot of patching up. Many could not be inspected immediately because of the presence of unexploded "thermos bottles" around the planes. Men were enlisted to push these planes out of danger wherever possible. Work progressed through the day with frequent "hit-the-dirt" warnings prompted by scattered explosions of these souvenirs.

That night, and also the following night, our visitors returned right on schedule: from 0145 to 0300 hours. So far we had suffered no casualties, but other units on the field had not fared so well. As American engineers had just completed a new airfield, Gela West, about five miles south, we moved to it on July 17.

The new field had been scraped and bulldozed out of a vineyard, and while it lacked the nicer facilities of an established air base, these deficiencies were compensated for by the fact that no white runways or taxi strips advertised Its location. That night we lay awake watching the flashes of the fourth consecutive bombing raid light up the sky around Ponte Olivio air field.

At Gela, our chow was vastly improved by supplementing it with fresh tomatoes, radishes, grapes, and almonds. Our new bivouac area was located in an almond grove on the side of a hill overlooking the field. Arrangements were made for the purchase of a bull which made a mighty fine barbecue. Our air field here was never a target for bombing, but tt was less than a mile from the port of Gela which swarmed with supply ships. Frequent raids were made on the port, but now our biggest worry was not the bombs, but the flak falling from our own ack-ack batteries. They really threw it up.

The campaign in Sicily moved fast and we moved with it. The next step was Termini on the northern coast of the Island. The field was on the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea, so we set up our sectlon tents right on the beach, dividing our time equally between working and swimming. We were given passes to Polermo, which lay about thirty miles west. The Sicilians were quite friendly and seemingly anxious to please. One out of every five could manage a little English and about one out of every three boasted of having spent "sixa year ina Pittsburgh." The other two had uncles in Brooklyn. While here we received about twenty Italian prisoners of war who did our fatigue duty and K.P. They were glad to be out of the war and thought well of American army chow and cigarettes. One afternoon a B-17 circled the field, landed, and out popped Bob Hope, Frances Langford, and their entourage. That evening most of us saw them perform in large outdoor stadium in Palermo.

The war in Sicily was over on August 17, 1943, and the squadron moved from Termini to San Antonio, about sixty miles to the east, on September 2. Here we were divided into two groups again, with the ground echelon going to the staging area of Malazzo. Preparations were made for invasion number three.

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